The influence of Asia on California, and on especially the Bay Area, has been long and enduring, and shows no sign of diminishing. In the realm of the visual arts, Asian aesthetics —the calligraphic gesture animating a perspective-free, infinite space—proved instrumental to the development of Abstract Expressionism, despite that style’s marketing during the Cold War as uniquely Western self-expression, arising from capitalist democracy. (The Dutch-American Abstract Expressiionist painter Willem de Kooning remarked sardonically on LIFE magazine wanting and getting a ‘cowboy,’ Jackson Pollock, as its postwar art hero.) With the continued diversification of American society, and the economic rise of China, such territorial and race- based claims on creativity are no longer acceptable.
The Peninsula Museum of Art is pleased to announce a major show of contemporary Asian artwork, Five Perspectives/Lunar New Year, featuring work by a diverse group of American artists who have synthesized, with beauty, power, and even humor, their Asian and their American heritages: Eunice Chan, Eun Lee, Ming Ren, Shan Shan Sheng and Wanxing Zhang. The new lunar year—the Year of the Goat, Sheep or Ram—begins Thursday, February 19. Wikipedia: “The Chinese word yáng refers both to goats and sheep, with shānyáng specifically goats and miányáng sheep. In English, the sign may be called either.” According to tradition, the zodiac symbol for this year is possessed of a love of beauty, considerate, sympathetic and sensitive— so it’s going to be an artistic year—starting now.
Peninsula Art Institute Gallery, February 5- March 15.
Chan moved to the Bay Area from New York, where she studied at the Art Students League, and enjoyed a successful architecture career. She creates portraits, figure studies, still lifes and landscapes; her observant realism alternates with the poetic stylization of traditional Chinese brush painting, as in her stunning depictions of celestial dragons, Taking Flight and Pursuit.
South Gallery, February 15-April 26.
Lee, a Korean-American artist, studied in Boston and San Francisco, where she now works. While her floral and landscape works derive from gestural Abstract Expressionism, her 2011 Psalms series, shown here, derives from the color-field branch of that movement, e.g., Mark Rothko, with his sunset-sky gates and portals transformed into near-monochrome lights and darks, or Philip Guston. The titles of Lee’s ‘door’ works—red, blue, pink, green and grey—sound like a tour of Guston’s palette.
North and East Galleries, January 25-April 5.
Sheng, an internationally renowned artist who works in San Francisco, is showing five of her Along the Silk Road landscapes series, examining the route along which goods from East and West were traded—mostly silk, but also technologies, religions and philosophies. Sheng’s essentially abstract works, like Calligraphy in the Flaming Mountains, Desert Wind, and Early Spring Song, with their powerful brushwork and intense color contrasts, convey the dynamism of cultural transmission as well as the artist’s impressions of real locales. Her sculptures transform the traditional motifs of horses, bells, fans and ceremonial tripods from the bronze and silk of the past to opulent Murano glass. Included are a 1/10-scale model for a huge glass-brick installation, The Open Wall Project, that was created for the Venice Biennale, and Calligraphy Totem, a poem inscribed in glass, inspired by the work of the eighth-century Tang Dynasty poet, Li Po, who died, egend has it, while drunkenly trying to embrace the moon reflected on a lake.
Decker A and B Galleries, February 15-April 26.
Ming, who lives in Hayward, works internationally. Stephen Beal, president of California College of the Arts described his paintings as “a creative extension of the laws of physics… His works call to mind the laws of the physical universe while appearing to defy them. They contradict our inculcated perceptions of a unified world governed by gravity and they pull us into new, unfamiliar spaces that challenge Western notions of picture plane and perspective. His paintings manipulate time and space: they fuse the East with the West and reveal new, unexplored territory.” Ming’s classical training and his disciplined use of painterly accident (born of constant study and experimentation) combine in such works as Blue World, Universal Valley and various works entitled Mysterious World to evoke beautiful, psychologically charged landscapes where everything is in motion, in flux.
Decker A and B Galleries, February 15-April 26.
Zhang, who lives in San Francisco, emigrated from China in the 1990s, as did other state- trained artists seeking freedom of expression in the West. Well-known and respected in the art community as an artist and teacher, Zhang recently had a solo show at San Francisco’s prestigious Catharine Clark Gallery. About which I wrote, in Art Ltd., “Hybridity, an aesthetic byword for several decades, has spawned a style of artwork that is ubiquitous … but too often generic, almost corporate, and deracinated: rootless. Not so with the ceramic figures of Wanxin Zhang, a sculptor who came to San Francisco in 1992. He found in the ceramic figure sculptures of Robert Arneson, Stephen De Staebler, Manuel Neri and Viola Frey a tradition that could accommodate his conflicting impulses and loyalties as a young immigrant artist poised between, to employ clichés, old and new, East and West. Zhang’s figure sculptures, which update the 8,000 clay warriors of Xian, embody a contemporary cross-cultural sensibility, but one with a strong point of view… These … works combine pathos with irony, and refuse to serve as either propaganda or satire; they are polyvalent, but not detached.”
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